Fixing our housing crisis is an opportunity to improve the lives of our people and reinvigorate our economy, that's what I learnt from talking to officials in South Tyrol.

The mostly German-speaking region in Italy took on the threat posed by second homes decades ago and now there is no looking back as I found out during a fascinating and wide-reaching conversation with the regional government’s head of planning.

South Tyrol, a region in the northeast of Italy, has many similarities to Wales.

It’s mountainous, with an economy dependent on tourism, home to several languages – German, Italian and Ladin - with its residents wearing several identities.

While today it’s a picture of serenity, it wasn’t always a haven of peace and tranquillity.

South Tyrol was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which collapsed following the First World War and was then annexed by Italy.

The region then suffered under Mussolini’s fascists, who were pushing for the Italinisation of the whole state.

German speakers were severely discriminated against, with the repression of the German language and the mass migration of Italian speakers to the region.

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The ghost of Mussolini hung over the region for decades, resulting in conflict and increased calls for autonomy.

This led to an agreement in 1972 to fully establish an autonomous region.

The agreement is widely recognised as the gold standard for conflict resolutions.

Today, people in South Tyrol have to declare their identity on official forms, either German or Italian, and public funds are allocated accordingly.

It’s a very crude policy to try and reverse the fascist legacy, but it also, in turn, discriminates against those who identify as Italians or Ladins.

This potted history is important to understand the context of their housing policies. Because the discrimination suffered by Tyrolians, and the demand for autonomy lead to the autonomous government introducing rules to ensure housing for the people of the region (and consequently prevent second homes) as far back as the 1970s.

Italy has devolved much power to its regions over the last two decades, but the autonomous government of South Tyrol has significant control over most of its domestic affairs.

Following the 1972 and 1992 agreements which resulted in peace and greater regional cooperation, and also the increased demands for greater autonomy and indeed independence, the Italian Government furnished the region with millions of Liras.

This money was spent to good effect, ensuring that each community had the best and most efficient infrastructure. Consequently, internal migration is extremely low in South Tyrol, because each community has all of the basic services and excellent infrastructure required to allow citizens to stay in their home communities should they wish.

The fascist Italinisation policies, which forced the mass migration into the region led to the newly autonomous region developing its radical housing policies.

Rules were put in place to prevent outsiders from moving into the region unless those people could prove that their families were from there or that they had a job there.

And these radical housing policies have continued through to today. Whenever a new residential area is developed 60 per cent of those houses must be reserved for social housing.

Of the remaining houses, 60 per cent must be reserved for ‘first houses’.

Only 16 per cent of the houses in South Tyrol are completely free of regulation on the open market. This section of the market is extremely expensive.

In a region of deep valleys and high mountains, less than 6 per cent of land is suitable for habitation. So suitable land is not only rare but very expensive.

Nevertheless, the government continue to ensure that housing is developed according to need, not greed. No totally privately-owned residential area is legally possible.

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Any development must be a partnership between the private owners and the public authorities.

This is automatically established when an area is designated for residential expansion.

Each development ensures a mix of houses, from social to first time, to open market. There is no tax on building first homes, but the tax on building second homes is extremely high.

Today South Tyrol is in the top 10 most prosperous regions of Europe and has the highest GDP in Italy.

They have a booming tourism economy, with 33 million nights spent there by tourists in 2019.

Their building trade is booming, and the housing sector is content. This is the polar opposite of what we hear in Wales when we even mention introducing steps to control the housing market.

Here, the Conservatives and their acolytes falsely claim that any control on the second homes housing market would damage tourism and other sectors.

The experience of South Tyrol tells the opposite story.

They took immediate action to clamp down on second homes and ensure that housing was developed according to need and made affordable for their residents in the very early days of their autonomy.

With over 40 years of this policy, there is now no question as to its validity or need.

Indeed, as Virna Bussadori, the regions head of nature, landscape and spatial development department told me: “With second homes the sense of community gets lost.

"They are very expensive on the whole community – you need to maintain the infrastructure all year round. Here our small communities are lively and active."

These policies have not impacted their economic growth. Their economy is flourishing, with the tourist and building trade booming.

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